Country Music – Omnibus Theatre, London

Writer: Simon Stephens

Director: Scott Le Crass

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Simon Stephens’s 2004 piece for the Royal Court, Country Music, is comparatively short, its single act coming in at a tad over 70 minutes. But onstage it covers two decades, following the life of a delinquent teen and the consequences of an action from which he can never fully run away.

The character of Cary Crankson’s Jamie is slowly extracted from a series of duologues with three people, starting in the 1980s with his girlfriend Lynsey (Rebecca Stone) as the pair try and escape their old life in a stolen car. Parked up for a refreshment break, their discussion of the predicaments each is running away from, coming as it does with Stephens’s ear for naturalistic dialogue, paints a vivid portrait of lives at the forgotten end of society.

But they also reveal a horrendous crime, executed by a young man driven to protect his eight-year-old brother in ways that his parents seem neither willing nor able to. Stone is initially the strongest here, much the younger of the two children, but definitely the more sensible and mature of the two.

Flash forward ten years, and Crankson’s Jamie is now in prison, being his visited by now-grown brother Matty (Dario Coates). Crankson elicits an increasing depth to his portrayal, a boy who has had to become a man in the confines of first a young offenders’ institution and then adult prison.

Coates and Crankson work together, statically confined to the spot by the rules of prison visiting, just as Crankson and Stone were by sitting in a car. Liam Shea’s set, a small space attached to the larger Omnibus space by a series of ropes, amplifies that sense of confinement.

The third scene, set a further decade in the future, requires more movement, as a now-released Jamie, briefly holed up in a Sunderland bedsit, engages in an awkward, stilted conversation with his and Lynsey’s grown-up daughter Emma (Frances Knight).

In this meeting, we see a Jamie who may have shaken off the shackles of imprisonment, but who struggles to do the same with the shackles of his actions some twenty years previously. Father and daughter’s awkward prowling around each other’s raw emotions are handled well. Knight, in particular, impresses in her first professional role.

Director Scott Le Crass has done good work here, telling a tale of attempted redemption and the difficulties involved. But as Stephens’s script draws to a close, one is left requiring a little more.

The playwright has gone on to so write so many other works that this revival, fifteen years after its debut, provides an insight to his progression as a writer. But without that context, Country Music has a slightness to it that this production, for all its efforts, cannot quite compensate for.

Runs until June 23 2019 | Image:Contributed

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A slight tale of redemption

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